For example, the transmission control protocol (TCP), the 20-year-old algorithm that governs most of the traffic flow over the Internet, doesn’t work well at gigabit-per-second speeds. The methods used by standard TCP to make sure it isn’t losing data cause it to use too little of the bandwidth available.
Low says that similar problems exist in many protocols, and that there are often problems with how protocols coordinate with each other that can further undermine network performance. High-speed broadband to users’ desktops might also be an opportunity to create new systems. “What new applications will become possible that are not now that users actually want to use, and what application protocols are needed to support them?” he says.
Rudolf van der Berg, a telecommunications consultant who was involved in running one of the earliest broadband networks in the world, says that while other companies and organizations have found ways to install gigabit connections, physically laying fiber still accounts for 70 to 80 percent of a project’s cost. Google could make a big contribution by finding more cost-efficient methods, he says.
He also notes that Google’s intention to share the network among multiple providers could influence how the network is structured technically. Networks that run one fiber to a group of homes and then share the bandwidth among them are harder to run according to the open-access model, van der Berg says.
Google hasn’t worked out most of the details of its plans for the experimental network yet, according to a Google spokesperson, but the company has engineers interested in various kinds of experiments with the deployment. Google expects that some of its teams will be interested in finding better ways to deploy fiber, others will want to experiment with the network’s capabilities, and so on.
The company plans to offer its own Internet service to customers in the community or communities it selects for the test bed, and it also expects to partner with other companies that will offer services using its network. Google is currently soliciting proposals from interested communities. The company expects to choose locations by the end of the year.
Internet2’s Bachula says he believes that Google’s initiative will encourage organizations such as the FCC to set concrete goals for broadband access throughout the U.S. By proposing a gigabit per second, Bachula says, Google has opened the way for conversation about how fast connections should be for tomorrow’s Internet.